As it turns out, Disneyland may not be the happiest place on earth, after all. More than a few studies indicate that the title may go to Costa Rica. A small Central American country with an outsized enjoyment and appreciation of life. Thousands of tourists and expatriates seem to agree, with travel to the tropical nation increasing in recent years. So what makes the Costa Rican people so unique?
The country is a melting pot, for one thing. Much of the country’s population is of Spanish origin. Costa Rican people also count Germans, English, Italians, and a smattering of other European nationalities among their ancestors. There is also a small Afro-Caribbean population of roughly two percent. The country’s relative stability and prosperity in recent years have made it an attractive destination for migrants from neighboring Central American countries, as well as retirees from the United States, Canada, and Europe.
With so many nationalities, it’s a bit difficult to generalize about the “Costa Rican people” and what makes them so happy. But one thing that seems to unite the people of Costa Rica is the notion of “Pura Vida,” a phrase that travelers to the country will often hear and in different contexts. Pura Vida is both a greeting and a goodbye, an answer to the question, “How are you?” and an expression uttered—perhaps shouted—at joyous occasions. What does it mean? Translated literally, it means “pure life,” but in reality, the meaning is more nuanced. For Costa Ricans, Pura Vida means enjoying life no matter what your circumstances; it’s a simple appreciation of life and the realization that life is what you make it.
And if the scientists are correct, this Pura Vida approach to life is working. Not only consistently ranked as one of the happiest populations on the planet, but Costa Ricans also have one of the longest life expectancies of any nationality. Their happiness doesn’t go unnoticed by travelers to Costa Rica, either; visitors to the country often say that the nation’s best asset is its people.
What accounts for the happiness and longevity of Costa Ricans? How have they apparently mastered the art of contentment while the United States buys self-help books by the millions to experience just a bit of the Pura Vida inspired joy of Costa Rica?
For one thing, life is slower in Costa Rica. Perhaps it’s due to the tropical climate, but there’s a pleasantly languorous quality to life there; people just don’t get in much of a hurry in Costa Rica. Life is to be enjoyed and savored, not rushed through at a face pace. Imagine a place with incredible natural beauty but none of the hustle and bustle of many American cities. Your environment can affect your mood more than you realize.
Compared to some of its neighbors, Costa Rica is a haven of stability and peace. The country abolished its army in 1949, and to this day it has no army. In many parts of the world, imagining one’s country without a military is almost impossible. But the money that Costa Rica could have spent on maintaining a military force has instead been channeled into education, health care, and preserving the country’s environment. These are the very things that so many tourists and expats find attractive about the country today. The decision to demilitarize the country and instead invest in democratic institutions and the health and well-being of the people has undoubtedly contributed to the happiness of Costa Rica.
Costa Rica may not have the world’s largest GDP, but considering what it does have. For example, abundant natural beauty, a slower, calmer approach to life, efforts to promote and protect that environment. Also, stable, democratic institutions aimed at the well-being of its people. No wonder the Costa Rican people consistently rank among the happiest people on earth.
Long before many countries had an eco-anything, Costa Rica was already making efforts to protect its environment. While many countries place little priority on environmental protections, Costa Rica is one of the world’s leaders in environmentalism. Many other nations seem to be preoccupied with cutting down forests for new real estate developments. Costa Rica does things the other way around—the country has a massive tree-planting initiative focused on creating new forests, rather than destroying it.
Not to mention the amount of rainforests and diversity in this small country. It seems like every other year there is a new National or Provincial Park opening to the public. This Is wonderful to have access to such beautiful landscapes. This past year 2016 Costa Rica used 98% green energy. This came from hydro, wind, solar and geothermal power sources. Costa Rican People have good reason to be happy from their peaceful government to the gorgeous lands it is the country of Pura Vida. Why not come and join us.